Friday, December 31, 2010

Rethinking our New Year's resolution

After posting our New Year's resolution - 'to put the joy back in training' - it dawned on me how general and unmeasurable this goal was. How will I ever be able to tell when/if I've attained it - or made some progress toward attaining it? So, I've been trying to come up with a more specific action plan that will help me reach this goal, and some ideas on how to measure our progress. These are my ideas so far:

1) I will begin each training session with play. Not being a toy or tug dog, Jackson's favorite game that gets  him excited is chasing his favorite treat across the ring. He will also chase me around the ring (when I have the energy to run : ) and he likes to do long recalls to his other favorite treat (Cesar's moist dog food)!

2) I will try to play tug with him twice a week. I ordered a mesh tug toy a while back that you put their favorite food in and it's guaranteed to make any dog want to tug.  Well, I didn't have immediate success with it so I put it away. I will get it back out again and give it another try. This time I will not give up so easily.

 3) I will shorten our training sessions, and/or take at least two breaks during our training to break out in a play session.

4) I will try one new kind of treat each week to peak his interest. I've heard dogs go nuts over tripe - or, maybe some sirloin steak will be on the menu : )

5) I will try to teach him one new trick each week. With a clicker, he picks up on simple tricks pretty fast so I think it's doable - if I can just think of 52 simple tricks!

Now, how will I measure our progress in putting more fun back in training? I'm not sure. That may be more subjective.

Tail wags are usually a sign that a dog is working happily. I'll admit, I don't get a lot of tail wags when he is working obedience exercises, so maybe I'll look for tail wags and keep track of when/if I see them. I'll watch his head position too. If his head and ears are up when he's working, that might also be a sign of his comfort level. One of Fanny's posts talks about your dog asking you to work with him - instead of the other way around. If I walk out to the middle of the ring and he comes trotting out to me, does that mean he's asking me to work with him? If he's nudging me for more treats, does that mean he wants to work with me - or does he just want a treat? Hmmm... I haven't figured this one out yet. Any ideas?????

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I will not suck the joy out of training!

Yup, that's my new year's resolution and number one goal for 2011. Up until a couple weeks ago I thought my number one goal was obvious - to get the udx title. However, after reading Melinda's blog post about putting the joy back in training, I was reminded again about why I do this.

Although I try to make our training sessions fun, I sometimes get caught up in the frustration of trying to meet the performance and title goals I've set for myself and forget to relax and find the joy in training for Jackson and myself. This year I am committed to trying harder to find that joy. I didn't start out training with titles and placements in mind. I just wanted to try doing something different with my dogs that I thought would be challenging and fun. It is fun  and rewarding - which is why I'm hooked on obedience.

Another blogger - Fanny Gott - posted something recently that also really got me thinking. In her post she said, "I never ask my dog to work with me. My dog has to ask me to work with him. I don’t ask him to look at me or to come to heel. The dog has to take responsibility for those things if he wants to work." Wow, I've never thought about training in those terms - expecting my dog to ask me to work with him : )

Anyway, those two posts really got me thinking about what it is I want to accomplish with training my dog. I will of course be setting some less lofty goals, i. e., straighter fronts, better position in heeling, nicer finishes, but always trying to keep in mind my primary goal of making training fun!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Pictorial Review of 2010

I've selected a photo taken in each month to represent some of the
events in Jackson's year.

What a great year it's been!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To pinch, or not to pinch ....

...that is the question. I was recently asked how I taught Jackson to retrieve the dumbbell. Since I had been thinking about doing a post on my training philosophy at some point, this question seemed a good lead in.

Jackson is the first dog I have trained for competitive obedience, so please take my random thoughts on training with a grain of salt : )   Every dog is different and it's a journey to find training methods that work for your dog and for you. This is what I have learned - so far - about what works with my dog --- and, that's not to say that other methods may have worked as well.

I am not a purely positive trainer. I choose to use primarily positive reinforcers such as treats and praise to train behaviors. I lure - a lot - when first teaching a behavior. I also use corrections to extinguish behaviors I don't want and to reinforce the notion that he doesn't always have a 'choice.' I don't believe corrections have to be harsh - they only need to get the dog's attention and communicate to him that, 'this is not appropriate behavior, or that was the wrong decision.'  I don't believe that ignoring bad behavior in my dog will make it go away, any more than I believe you should ignore bad behavior when raising children. And, I don't believe correcting my dog damages my relationship with him anymore than I think disciplining children damages your relationship with them. I think it gives them a clear picture of what your expectations are and what's acceptable behavior. Well, that's pretty much it in a nutshell - at least as of today. I'm sure my ideas on training will continue to undergo changes and adjustments with more experience, and more trials and errors!

 All of which brings me to the question, "how did I train the retrieve?" I used the ear pinch method. I started out with putting the dumbbell in Jackson's mouth and having him hold it. I rewarded him for holding it and sometimes he would even take it from my hand. But most times he would choose not to take it. Now, I might have worked on this for a year or so and gotten him to take it on command (and I do know people who did work on it for months and were able to get their dogs to retrieve without pinching their ear), however, I am not that patient of a trainer, and at that time, had no experience with clicker training. We had one training session where we pinched his ear to get him to take the dumbbell. I think we only did it a couple times before he figured out what he needed to do. Today, Jackson has a reliable retrieve. I can't remember one time in the four or five years since we did the ear pinch, that he has refused to retrieve.

Would I use the same method with my next dog? I don't know. I've done some dumbbell work with Jolee, who has a totally different personality/temperament than Jackson and I've been using the clicker training method with her. It has been a lot of fun watching her learn that way and I hope to get back to working with her soon. I'll just have to see how far clicker training takes me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Year-end Review

Now, you might think it's a little early for a year-end review. However, we just completed our last weekend of trials for the year and thought it was a good time for a review. Our goal for 2010 was to get the UDX title. Well, we fell a little bit short of that goal but when I look back at the year of trialing, I am very happy with what we accomplished - nine UDX legs!

At the beginning of the year I was not optimistic about setting this as a goal. Our first time out last January was going to be a 'do or die' weekend. If he had not done anything at that first trial, I was not going to pursue the title. As luck would have it, he qualified that weekend and got his first two UDX legs. He qualified the next three trials also and earned three more legs. So, five trials - five UDX legs. Then the magic stopped and the wheels fell off. I haven't gone back and counted how many trials it took for the next four legs, but it was a lot. 

Utility is hard. There are a million - well, maybe not a million - but a lot of things that can go wrong to keep you from qualifying. I imagine if it weren't so difficult, it wouldn't be such a great accomplishment to get to this level of obedience. What's particularly difficult for Jackson, and for a lot of dogs, is the stress in the ring that keeps them from focusing on what it is they have trained to do and do so well in practice.  This weekend was no exception. Jackson was very stressed in the ring even though the trial was in the building we train in. Both days he NQd on the signal exercise. He also NQd yesterday on the moving stand when he didn't come all the way to finish. The moving stand is usually the exercise I have the most confidence in. I think it just goes to show than anything can fall apart when he is stressed.

So, that brings me to our goal for 2011. It's going to be to try to get that 10th leg and the UDX title. We've come too far to quit now - and I'm not sure what I would do with my time if I didn't have a dog to train : )

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another Day - Another Demo!

Jackson was invited to participate in a demo last night for a church youth group. We really enjoy doing these demonstrations. It's great fun and really good experience for Jackson to go into new environments and perform exercises with different distractions. The request came through our obedience training club, so we talked about our dogs, how we train them, and demonstrated a few obedience exercises.

Here are a few pictures of our team - Melody the Border Terrier, Sparky the Standard Poodle, and Jackson.

Introducing our team

Drop on Recall

Figure 8

Scent discrimination

Meet and Greet

Monday, November 1, 2010

Weekend Trials - still one to go!

The weekend trials turned out to be a weekend for training, as we didn't qualify in utility any of the days. The stress monster got to Jackson and our go outs for directed jumping fell apart. He just couldn't bring himself to go to the other side of the ring and sit. Instead, he either didn't go far enough out or when he did he turned around and walked back in too close to the jumps. Now, we've had problems with slow sits and/or no sits on the go outs, but the walking back in is new.  There was ring rental time after the trial ended, so we spent our five minutes in the ring just working on go outs. He was able to do them in practice, but that didn't carry over into the trial the next day.

He had a couple other glitches during the weekend - but, I'm not too worried about them. Overall, I think he was just bothered and distracted enough by the trial environment that he couldn't perform well. I never really know what one - or more - things bother him about certain venues so I just have to wait until we go in the ring to see how it's going to go.

My plan in training this month is to try some different things with go outs to see what helps. We were back at the club training today and I put a couple guides out at the location where I want him to sit. It was just two of the 2" high-jump boards parallel to one another and just far enough apart for him the turn around and sit. Well, wouldn't you know - he was perfect. I've used guides before and they evidently are the clue he needs for him to know exactly what to do. He appears very confident about what it is he is supposed to do when he sees the guides. Now, the challenge will be - how to wean him off the guides? I think I'll take it slow this time and maybe reduce the visibility of the guides gradually.

Our next trial is the end of the month in the building where we train. You would think that would be easier for him, but.... we've not done particularly well in that building previously, so I'm not overly confident.  We'll see : )

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

9 Down - 1 To Go ! ! ! ! !

Well, we got the ninth UDX leg this past weekend - I guess there's no turning back now! We had a chance to get the tenth leg on Sunday, but no Qs. However, we won't talk much about that - we'll just focus on Saturday :)

It was a small entry at Saturday's trial, so only one ring and lots of room for crating and warm-up. He was worried in the ring, but he managed to hold it together and complete all the exercises in both utility and open for that double Q. The stress showed up in not-too-pretty fronts and finishes, and the usual slow down in sits and performing the exercises.

Sunday was a different story. (I just never know which Jackson is going to show up in the ring.) There were several more entries in the Sunday trial, however, still not crowded or distracting - at least I didn't think so. However something really was bothering Jackson and he couldn't focus on the job at hand. I could tell he was stressed when we entered the ring because he slowed down even more than usual and was lagging on the heeling and turns. He NQd on the first exercise - the signals. He did the down, sit and come okay, except.... he stopped and sat about five feet out in front of me instead of coming on in. Open B went much better than utility - that is until we got to the long sit. He went down immediately before I got across the ring. That was very uncharacteristic for him. Never done that before, so I will just chalk that up as a fluke and not worry about it for now.

Back to Saturday - It was a gorgeous fall day here in the Midwest and the trial was held near one of the larger lake/resort areas in Iowa, Clear Lake. So, after the trial we went over to the lake to hang out for awhile - to bask in the sun and to celebrate getting the ninth leg.

Here's a couple pictures of our afternoon. I was surprised by Jackson's reaction to the water. He walked right into the water. I think he might have just kept going if I had let loose of the lead or gone in the water with him :) Hmmmmm, maybe dock diving is in his future.

Friday, October 8, 2010

When does 'sit' mean 'sit' ?

We've been working hard lately on the verbal sit command. As you may recall from earlier posts, this was the area we decided to focus on after the last trial where I got no sits on the go outs. It didn't seem as though Jackson recognized the command in that situation. Or, if he did recognize it, he wasn't confident enough in that situation to do it in a timely manner.

Coincidently, Hsin-Yi had a post on Honey's blog yesterday about dogs not generalizing and about testing to see if they understood the command when you were giving it from positions other than in front of them. This had also been one of the games on Susan Garrett's 'Brilliant Recall' e-course I took recently. Dogs not generalizing commands is not a new concept to me, but I had never really set about testing the 'sit' command to see how many different positions and places I could give the command - without any treats or body/hand movements -and have him respond correctly.

So, today I decided to see how well he would do with the command from different positions. What I found was, he does really well when we are in the kitchen and in various other locations when I am standing in front of him up to 10-15 feet away. And, he also responded well when I turned my back to him and gave the command. However, not so well when I was sitting down, as you will see in the video.

The following short clips are from our 'test' this afternoon - first in the kitchen, then moving to the deck. (I haven't figured out yet how to edit the clips to put them together in one video, thus the two clips. If anyone has suggestions for video editing software that works well with Windows 7, please let me know : )

I think what our 'test' today shows is, we really need to continue work on the sit command in different locations and my giving the command from different and unusual positions. We also need to work on the sit command with various distractions.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

National Obedience Invitational ad

This is the ad we're placing in the AKC 2010 National Obedience Invitational catalog. The trials will take place in Long Beach, California in December. We'll be there in spirit, even if not in person : )

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Training update

With two UDX legs left to go, I've looked at our performance in the last few trials and tried to pick out a couple things to focus on in training that might help us with getting those last two legs. I've decided to let the speed thing go, as I don't think either one of us has enough years left of training to make a dramatic impact on increasing his speed in the trials. He is what he is : ) So, the thing that I've decided to focus on is the sits on go outs. Since I got no sits on go outs at the last trial, it seemed like an area that we could improve.

My approach to training this has been to really up the value of treats that I'm using to reinforce the sits. The highest value reward I've found so far in training is the canned dog food. I use the little plastic containers of Cesar dog food that you can peel off the foil lid and spoon out for rewards. Throwing Bil Jac liver treats is still high value, but the Cesar's is even higher and I can deliver the reward in place. So, with my high-value reward in hand, I've been doing a lot of random sit commands in an effort to make sure he knows the command. I give the sit command when I'm close to him, when I'm across the ring, when I'm behind him, in front of him, etc., I sometimes put a ring gate between us so I can increase the distance, which is also good exercise for me because I then have to run to him to give him the reward in a timely manner. (I really need to dig out my clicker again so I can mark the behavior from a distance : ) I have in my mind a picture of an acceptable sit speed and only reward the sits that are faster than the 'acceptable' level. I'm looking for this 'acceptable' level to improve as we continue with this training.

I also combine the sit command with the go outs sometimes. I work the go outs without the jumping - varying the distance and still using the high-value reward for fast sits. We've just been doing this for the past week, but I'm seeing some improvement already. I have a few more weeks to focus on this before we're entered in trials so it will be interesting to see if there is carryover in the ring.

The other thing we need to do more of is work under some stress. It's hard to find stressful distractions away from trials, but we got lucky today at the club where I train - someone had pulled the agility equipment out in two of the rings. This is one of the most stressful things for Jackson to work through, due to his irrational fear of agility equipment. We did most of our training in the adjacent ring to the agility equipment, but when it came time to do the articles - guess where we put the article pile? Yup, right in the middle of the agility equipment. He was really stressed, but I helped him a little and he worked through it and did fine. Hopefully, putting a little more confidence in his bank account : )

The downside of using these high-value rewards and treating a lot is he's gaining weight. At his annual check-up last week, he weighed 178 pounds.  Not a good thing when he's doing so much jumping. I may need to find a low-calorie Cesar dog food!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Trial Today - #8!

We were entered in an obedience trial today at the club where I train. He usually doesn't do well at all in that building for some reason - even though he's familair with it. Today though, he held it together and qualified in both Utility and Open for his 8th UDX leg!!!!!

It wasn't always pretty - he was true to form with his slowdown in the ring. There was more walking than trotting and some crooked fronts and finishes, but he did all the exercises. I thought we were going to NQ with the first signal. I gave the signal to down and he just stood there looking at me. I was about to give him a second command, which would have been an NQ, when the judge motioned for me to give him another down command. Well, I don't know if he saw the judge from the back of his head, or if it was just coincidence that he decided to go down at that moment, thus saving the day - and the Q : ) 

I got no sits on the go outs, but he took the correct jumps. I was worried though that he wouldn't have enough speed to carry him over the jumps - but, he's getting pretty good at 'walking' up to the jumps then going over them.

Open was somewhat better. His heeling was pretty good except for some lagging on the figure eights. He was still pretty slow on the retrieves and drop on recall, but again, he did everything.

I'm really not getting so frustrated anymore with the slowdowns in the ring. I know he's not going to ever give me the performance in the ring that I get in practice due to his personality - but, that's okay. If we can just get these last two legs, I promised him he could retire from obedience and we'd do something fun --- like tracking!

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Photo shoot

Jackson and his training buddy Melody had a photo shoot yesterday. Both Jackson and Melody were invited to the AKC National Obedience Invitational (see previous post). We thought it was really neat that both of us were invited since we're training buddies and nontraditional obedience breeds. And, since and it's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime event for us, we decided to put an ad in the Obedience Invitational catalog. Thus, the photo shoot. So, here's one of the photos we selected for the ad.

Photo by Jerry Ranch

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What I learned at the trials this weekend.....

I try to look at trials as an opportunity to evaluate where we are with our training, what is improving, and what areas we need to focus on more. So, I spent most of the trip home from the trials today trying to figure that out, and how to put a positive spin on the weekend. It was one of those weekends again. No udx legs. While he qualified consistently in Open, we couldn't keep it together in the Utility ring. One day we 'pointed out,' which means he completed all the basic utility exercises, however, too many points were deducted for slow responses for him to have a qualifying score. On another day, he got the wrong glove - due to a really bad pivot he was facing the #1 glove instead of the #2 so took the wrong glove. And, to top it off today - I sent him over the wrong jump.  I couldn't believe it (banging head against the wall :)! The judge said he would have qualified except for that error on my part.

The positive spin I put on it is - we get to continue training and trialing! After all, it's the journey - not the destination! That's what I keep telling myself anyway : ) Okay, so now for a look at what's going on with him. It's the same thing that we can't seem to overcome - his reaction to the trial environment. When we step into the ring and the leash is off, I cannot keep his focus. He goes through the motions - make that sloooow motions - of the exercises, but loses the enthusiasm, drive and precision that I see in practice. He is constantly trying to keep an eye on what's going on outside the ring and around him rather than focusing on me, which also results in really sloppy fronts and finishes.

In practice we've been playing a lot of games to increase focus and drive - the theory behind this being that if the value and rate of reinforcement is high enough for the behaviors you are shaping, the dog will choose to work with you in spite of the distractions around them. In theory, it sounds good - but, in reality, I'm not sure it can be applied successfully to all dogs - especially low-drive dogs, that are fearful and lack confidence aka dogs like Jackson! Are there some fears and/or distractions that just cannot be overcome in some dogs???

Any thoughts on that? I would love to hear them : )

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Last training session before the trial weekend

Today was our last chance to train at the club before leaving tomorrow for a four-day weekend of trials. Our training buddy (the two-legged one) has been out of commission with an injury for the past couple weeks so today was the first time we met up to train. And, I must say, I've missed having someone to train with. We've had fun on our own the past couple weeks - mostly playing games - but it really is helpful and more enjoyable to train with someone else.

We decided to do run-thrus today to see where we were at. We did both utility and open run-thrus. And, I was really pleased with Jackson's performance. He was generally pretty well focused and attentive. His fronts, sits and finishes were really nice with not much lagging at all. As always, I would have liked to have seen more briskness on the go-outs and articles, but overall he did a nice job.

Now, if he can just tune out the distractions at the trials this weekend and stay on task - but, that's always the unknown with him - how will he be affected by the trial environment?

Stay tuned........

Monday, August 16, 2010

Training update

I'm seeing a difference in Jackson's attitude since we started the e-course - a game a day for the month of August. I can't go into detail about the games, but I will say the ones that I've found the most helpful are the various versions of restrained recalls and rewarding in the 'reinforcement zone.'

We were at the club today to train - make that 'play' - and he was really up. Of course we were the only ones at the club so that may have had something to do with it : ) And, since they have agility scheduled at the club tonight, all of the ring gates were down leaving a big, wide-open space where three rings normally would be. The more room available - the faster Jackson's recalls are, so he was really 'flying' today. It's so much more fun to watch him run than it is to watch him slowly walk through the exercises.

We worked some restrained recalls and some regular recalls - throwing in a few drops too. I'm also doing a lot of rewarding in the 'reinforcement zone,' which is a variation of 'choose to heel.' I'm hoping this will help with his heeling and cut down on the lagging.

We did articles by placing the article pile in the middle of the room - about 3-4 times further than it would normally be. Instead of sending him to the pile, I ran out to the pile with him and then as soon as he found the correct article, I ran back to the other end of the room to give him his very favorite reward - a spoonful of canned dog food. I did get trotting out and back from the pile instead of the usual slow walk.

We did a few other exercises and overall, I tried to keep it fast and upbeat, which resulted in him acting a lot more focused and energized. I don't know if there will be carryover into the trial setting or when working with distractions, because we still have the lack of confidence problem that's been hard to overcome. However, I don't see how having all this fun and games can hurt, and maybe I'll be able to see a difference in his attitude at the trials we're entered in the end of the month.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Trials and Games

It's been a busy couple weeks now with training for last weekend's trials and trying to keep up with the game of the day in the e-course I'm taking, Susan Garratt's 'Five Minutes to a Brilliant Recall.'

First off, the trial weekend in Wisconsin - The trials were held in conjunction with a conformation show so there was quite a bit of activity (read that - distractions) in the building. It was air conditioned though with plenty of room for crating and warm up. The ring set-up had spectators on two sides, a rally ring adjacent on one side, and a wall on the fourth side. Jackson was worried about what was going on around him - especially in back of him. And, wouldn't you know it - the signals were at the end of the ring with the active ring behind him.  On the signal to down, he could just manage a sit. I think he was afraid that if he went all the way down, something would get him from behind. NQ. The remainder of the exercises went pretty well, although there was the usual stress-induced slowdown and some crooked sits and finishes. He did qualify in Open though. He's much more confident in the Open exercises - maybe because they're not as complicated and there's not as much opportunity to make the 'wrong' choice.

There was ring rental time after the trial was finished on Saturday. We spent our five minutes in the ring just heeling and playing - trying to get him more comfortable in the setting so he wouldn't be so stressed.

The good news now - Sunday he qualified in both Utility and Open to earn his 7th UDX leg! I don't know if the ring rental time helped, or if he was just more comfortable with the environment the second day and not so stressed, but he held it together and completed all the exercises.

Only three more legs to go! We are entered in trials at the end of the month so we'll see how things go. Which brings me to the GAMES!

I'm having great fun with the five-minute games - a different one each day - that focus on attention and drive. The things we desperately need : )  My training plans for the rest of the month are to concentrate on playing those games with Jackson with the hope of increasing his attention on me. That's the really big difference I see when we go to trials. I am so envious of those handlers whose dogs focus all their attention on them and don't seem to even be aware of what else is going on around them. If I can get just a little more attention from Jackson in trial situations maybe he won't be so aware (read that - stressed) by what else is around him. We'll see : )

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jackson gets invited!

Jackson has been invited to the 2010 AKC National Obedience Invitational to be held December 4th & 5th in Long Beach, California !!!!

Now, you're probably wondering, "How is it possible for a dog struggling to get an average score of 180 to be invited to this prestigious event?"  And, it is a highly prestigious event - especially for those dog/handler teams that work all year to qualify for an invitation so they can compete for the NOC - National Obedience Champion title.

Well, as it turns out - and I'm not sure why AKC does this -  in addition to the highest scoring dogs (according to their OTCH points) being invited, the top three performance dogs in each breed (also according to their OTCH points - Jackson has 2 : ) are also invited. In the case of Great Danes, as well as many other nontraditional obedience breeds, there are just not that many competing at the utility level, so Jackson more or less received the invitation by 'default.' But, I'm not saying that it's not a great accomplishment for nontraditional obedience breeds to be invited, because I am thrilled to have received the invitation. I think it recognizes the really hard work that trainers of nontraditional obedience dogs put into training their dogs to get them to the utility level, even though they may not always be competitive with those dogs scoring consistently in the high 190s and getting placements.

I'm also not saying that Great Danes are not capable of getting those high scores, because there is an OTCH Great Dane, and a couple others who do consistently score in the 190s.

And, in case you are wondering - we do not plan to attend. However, I think I will frame the invitation and look at it periodically for inspiration : )

Monday, July 19, 2010

Let the games begin!

I am excited! I have signed up for Susan Garrett's e-course, 'The Five Minute Formula for a Brilliant Recall.' It's her first e-course. It begins August 1 and consists of 31 games in 31 days - five-minute games that will help with focus, attention and drive, not to mention brilliant recalls.

Now, I don't do agility, but I have found some really helpful information on her blog regarding training basics and foundation work for any activities you do with your dog. Jackson is certainly not the high-drive dog you normally see in agility or obedience, so I figured anything I can try that may result in more focus and attention on me in distracting situations is worth the try.

I'm going to give it 100 percent for the month, and I'm really excited to see what results may come of it. I'll keep you posted on our progress : )

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Colorado Trials - #6!

Here I am with my laptop (don't you love WIFI?) on the open porch of a cabin in Estes Park, Colorado, enjoying the mountains, hoping to see wildlife, and also reflecting on the weekend trials : ) Jackson is beside himself with all the new mountain/wildlife smells. I am happy to be relaxing in the mountains and I'm also happy with the trials. I really enjoy coming to the trials here in Colorado because it's such a nice venue and the people are so friendly.

We did pick up our 6th UDX leg on Saturday. (Yay - only four more to go!) However, it was a different story on Friday and Sunday. Friday was a split decision - we qualified in Open, but not in Utility. On Sunday, we NQd in both Utility and Open.

Okay, now for the high points - aside from getting the leg.
1) On Friday we got the highest score ever in Open - 191.5 (not really high by competitive dog standards, but great for him!)
2) He was able to work through his stress to complete most of the exercises, even on the runs where he did not qualify. He really tried!

Now for the rest of the story -
He was the second dog in the ring on Friday. I was nervous - he was worried. It was not a good mix : (
The first exercise was the directed retrieve (gloves). Bad pivot, bad signal on my part so he took the wrong glove. NQ. The judge was great though - he said, you paid the money so go ahead and help him with the other exercises. (This does not happen often, and sometimes it depends on whether there is an AKC rep on the site.) So, I did help him with the signals and articles, which he probably would not have been successful with if I hadn't helped him. The moving stand was great though.

He was able to work through the stress on Saturday though and qualified in Utility. Not a good score. Lot's of points off for slow to respond, crooked sits and finishes, etc., but he did everything. I thought things would be better on Sunday, because he would be used to the site. We were the first team in the ring and he was very distracted by what was going on in the next ring and outside the rings. Signals were the first exercise, and he missed one of the signals. NQ. The other exercises were good except for the directed jumping. His first go out and jump were great. On the second go out he walked in too close before he sat, so couldn't take the jump. NQ again.

He was pretty consistent on Open all three days. His only problem was on the broad jump Sunday. I hate when the broad jump is the first exercise in Open. I'd rather do something moving first to get him warmed up. Anyway, he stepped on the last board when he jumped. NQ. It might have made a difference if I had set him up back further from the jump to give him more room. You just never know.

He really tried, but worry and stress are still our enemy. It was small entries in Utility B and Open B (10-12 per class) and a nice trial site. Lots of room for crating and warm-up with only three rings in the building, but still difficult for him to focus on me and the job at hand.  I don't know that we will ever overcome that entirely. My training plan for July will include continued work on focus and ramping up the training with distractions.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Jackson makes the news

Jackson is a celebrity :) Well, he made the local newspaper anyway in the town we were trialing in this past weekend. I guess it's hard to keep a low profile when you have a great dane in obedience :) I did talk to the reporter when we came out of the ring, but I didn't know he had taken any pictures so I was really surprised when a friend sent me this article -

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The weekend trials

The weekend trials went surprisingly well. We didn't get any UDX legs, but I was pleased with his performance - in most exercises. We qualified in Utility both days, however, NQd in Open both days. The problem in Open both days was the drop on recall. He's been pretty solid on that in practice, but with the stress of the trial and the distractions, the drop command just wasn't registering with him.

It was pretty crowded in the building with not much room to maneuver without running into other dogs. That can create quite a bit of stress for Jackson - and for me too, trying to protect the space around him in close quarters. He's not particularly good with strange dogs in his face, so I really need to keep a close eye on him so I can manage that. This was one of the larger-entry trials that we've been to this year, so even though it was a challenge, it was a good experience for us.

What I was most pleased with was his improvement on his fronts and finishes. We have been losing a lot of points on those things, but they were much better this weekend - especially today. Now, the sits were still really, really slow. I suspect the stress of the trial has a lot to do with the slow sits because he doesn't sit that slow in training. OMG, I just stopped to count up the number of sits I ask him to do in a trial, and it's 38! (23 in utility and 15 in open) So, if you have crooked sits, those points can sure add up :)

Overall, I am much happier with our performances at the end of this weekend than I was after the last trial weekend. I felt we were a little more in the groove. And, I got a lot of positive comments from folks around the ring, who say they really enjoy watching him perform in the ring. Now, I don't know if it's because they are so surprised to see a Dane in obedience or if they just think he is a cool dude :) Either way, I'll take it!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Training update

Training has really been going well this past week. We've been mixing it up quite a bit with some clicker training and formal obedience, and we've been training less frequently - meaning not every day. Trying to work on some skills with the clicker that will help in the trials - like focus, sits, and fronts.

Today we trained at the club and tried to work in more distractions than usual. We can't create the trial-like setting, but we threw in a few odd things to try to distract him. When we did articles there were loose dogs wandering around the ring and a couple people walking around the article pile. It did take him a little longer to work the pile, but he got the correct articles each time.

When we did the other exercises, we also had people and dogs wandering around the ring. Not a problem with heeling and figure 8s. I am really pleased with his heeling lately - at least in practice he is staying with me. There was a blip in the drop on recall. He failed to come when I called him from the drop. I think he was distracted by the dog behind me so that gave me an opportunity to go in and correct him to show him what I wanted. Hopefully, next time he's distracted, he'll remember he needs to work through it.

Really slow sits and sometimes no sits in the go outs have been a problem in the trials. To try to correct this, I've started working on the sits away from me with the clicker. I've been clicking and treating for sits at various distances away from me. Trying to make sure he understands the command in different locations and situations. Maybe with the clicker training he will be more responsive with the increased distance when I'm across the ring.

We're still working on the rear-end awareness with the box. And, we've added focus training to the mix. I'm clicking and treating whenever he looks at me. It appears to be helping with his focus.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's officially summer - and we need a plan

We've taken some time off from formal obedience training after the last weekend of trials. Time to regroup. Memorial Day weekend is behind us and it's now officially summer, so we need to come up with a summer plan for training and trialing.

I was somewhat disappointed in our last trial performance, however, I've decided to focus and build on the positives. Hmmm.... maybe it was just an off weekend for Jackson. So, I've entered him in another trial in a couple weeks, just to see if it was a fluke, or if we need a longer break from training and trialing.

We've been training less frequently this past week or so, and we've been doing more clicker/fun training instead of the formal stuff. We're getting pretty good at the rear-end-awareness exercise with the box and we've been doing some fun things with attention.

Our plan for awhile is to continue training, but with the reduced amount of formal training and more of the fun stuff. My goal also is to get him out to explore some new interesting places. The plan is still a little vague now, but I'm going to try to come up with some specific behaviors to work on with the clicker.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The video

Since I've been grousing so much about Jackson's performance at the trials last weekend, I thought I would upload the video of his Utility B class. Actually, when I viewed it this morning it didn't look as bad as it felt Saturday, although it's a long ways from where I'd like to be. As I've said before, I don't expect the speed of the high drive dogs you normally see in obedience, but this weekend was especially slow and unmotivated.

The video begins with the first exercise at the point where he NQd. Hubby missed the jump over the bar part, but caught the part where he came in and sat too far away from me. That was the NQ.

VIEWER WARNING: The video is about 10 minutes in length!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Wall - aka the trial weekend

I feel like we ran into a brick wall this weekend. I am challenged to find something positive to say about the trials this weekend --- but, I'll try.
1) the obedience building was air conditioned (something really good since it was a warm and humid in Kansas this weekend.)
2) the hotel we stayed at was really, really nice (La Quinta in Olathe, KS) and pet friendly.
Hmmmm..... that's about it for the positives, now, on to what happened at the trial.

The overall problem this weekend was Jackson's attitude -- or lack thereof. I don't know what it was about the trial site that affected him. The thought did occur to me that maybe he didn't feel well - was having a migraine headache weekend - or something! But, for whatever reason, he just was not up to working at all. I felt like I was dragging him into the ring. I just couldn't get him up at all. Once in the ring, he did all of the basic parts of the exercises, but he did them at 'negative warp speed' (that's really, really, really, slow) Even though he managed to perform the basic portions of each exercise, he did not come close enough to front on the directed jumping and was NQd on that exercise.

He did manage to qualify in Open later that day (Saturday), but he was so slow and lethargic that he almost pointed out. Other than the fact that he did perform the basic parts of all the exercises, it is really difficult to find a bright spot among the day's performance.

This morning was more of the same. He did the basic portions of the exercise in Utility, but did not qualify for lack of enough points. Again, it was like watching paint dry! (I didn't know a body could move that slow and still keep going!!!) I decided after the Utility class to pull him from Open, because I just couldn't see rehearsing that same behavior in the ring again.

So, now I'm left to ponder - what next? Was it just a fluke of a weekend and I should just keep training as I've been training. Albert Einstein is credited with the following definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Does that concept apply to obedience training? If it does, I'm not sure what the alternatives to try are. For starters, I think I will take the week off from training while I try to figure out where we're at.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mixing it up!

Okay, I've taken the suggestions to try training some new exercises to heart and we have been working on something new this week. (Thanks Hsin-Yi :) I think maybe he is getting bored with the repetitive obedience training, and it is time to add some new challenges to the mix. I can see already he's having more fun in training learning something new - especially with clicker training where he gets lots of treats and he's not worried about making a mistake.

So, the exercise we've been working on is practicing rear-end movement with the box. I've seen several videos with different types of dogs doing this exercise, but had not tried it yet with Jackson. At the first session it took him awhile to put his front feet on the box. However, once he did that it didn't take him long to get the hang of it. The video here is the fourth session where we've started moving the back feet around while his front feet stay on the box.

I'm thinking when he gets good at moving his rear end with me standing in front of him it will be time for me to move to heel position and have him pivot both directions. Then, I'll have to think of other things I can do with the box - or with something else new!

Friday, May 7, 2010

What can I do to help my dog?

That is the question of the day. I'm really trying to get into the mindset of asking, "What can I do to help my dog be successful?" when he appears to not understand what it is I am asking him to do in an exercise, or reducing his stress level. Lately, I've been thinking more about the stress thing. I'm wondering what I may be doing to create/reinforce stress, and/or what can I do to reduce the stress he feels in trial situations? The stress is definitely affecting his performance in the ring, so maybe I need to examine more closely, and objectively, what I am doing. Am I unconsciously reinforcing his reaction to stressful situations?

I really do believe dogs pick up on the handler's emotions. I was in denial for a long time regarding my nervousness in the ring - thinking that if I said I wasn't nervous, I wouldn't be nervous :) But, in fact, I do get nervous in the ring and I'm sure Jackson picks up on that. It is getting better though. I believe if you 'act' confident, you will become confident, so I am trying to practice acting confident - and more relaxed in the ring. If I can get control of that, it may go a long way to helping him.

I need to examine what else I am doing or not doing to increase Jackson's confidence. When we are waiting our turn to go in the ring I tend to have my hands on Jackson a lot, if he's not in his crate. I find myself stroking him and massaging his shoulders - thinking that is relaxing him, and me. But, is it? He also likes to sit on my lap. Now you may be wondering how a Dane can sit on your lap - easy, they just back up to you and sit :) Is allowing this behavior reducing or reinforcing stress? Should I just leave him in his crate except for taking him out to warm up prior to going in the ring?

Away from the trials, I am following through with my goal of getting him out several times per week to train in new locations, which I think may help with working through distractions. Yesterday we went to the Wal-Mart parking lot and worked on some attention and heeling exercises for a few minutes. There happened to be a couple pylons set up to block off a drive so that was perfect for doing some figure 8s. Finding new places to work for a few minutes is turning out to be easier than I thought.

If anyone has found exercises that helped them reduce their own stress and that of their dogs, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Weekend Trials

This past weekend of trials was a mixed bag - some success, some not so much success, but overall lots of fun : ) It was a really nice trial site - fairgrounds in Seward, Neb.; the weather was near perfect; friendly people; and we picked up our 5th UDX leg! However, didn't get the double Q on Sunday because he missed the signal to come from the down on the drop-on-recall exercise in Open.

The trial site is around three hours from our home, so we drove over on Friday afternoon and were able to get into the building and set up. We like to get in the evening before to set up if we can because it's sometimes difficult to find space for a Dane-sized crate if we get there at the last minute. Our training buddy, Melody the Border Terrier, was also there so Jackson had a 'friend' to crate next to. I'd like to think he is less stressed if he has friends there, but I don't really know if that helps or not.

He was stressed and distracted in the ring as usual - lots of yawning, panting and looking around instead of focusing on me, but he was able to work through it and on Saturday he qualified in both utility and open for that 5th UDX leg. We lost a LOT of points for lagging, crooked sits, slow sits, some no finishes, etc. He was quite a contrast to the border collies and goldens that were so fast and so focused on their handlers! However, I am happy with how far he's come in trialing when compared to his performances a few months ago. I just have to keep reminding myself not to compare him to those high-energy dogs. He is what he is : )

On Sunday, our utility run went well and we qualified. However, he missed that come signal from the drop-on-recall and I had to give a second command. I'm not sure what happened there. His mind must have been somewhere else at that moment. That's just something that happens. I'm not going to stress about it in training - just hope it doesn't happen again.

Overall, I was very happy. It's still the ring stress that gets him, so my plan for the next few weeks is to get him out in new places at least three to four times per week to work on basics - attention, heeling, signals, drop on recalls, etc. I know that was my goal some time ago, but I got somewhat lazy about it and didn't get out as much as I had hoped to. This time I'm really going to try to stick with it. We're entered in a trial in three weeks so I'm hoping it will help him build up more confidence.

Here's a couple pieces of video from this weekend. One is the figure 8 in open and the second one is the retrieve over high.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Choose to vs. Have to - that is the question

As a beginner to obedience training, I have read a lot and observed a lot of various methods of training - and probably tried most of them! And, to be truthful, I'm not sure which ones are working. I'm thinking about the lagging behavior here. When I started training, lagging in heeling was a real problem. I was even NQd once  in Novice A at a trial because of the lagging - not to mention the time he decided he'd rather leave the ring instead of staying with me. That was the low point of our obedience career, but, we hung in there and we've come a long way since then.  However, I'm still getting the occasional lagging in the ring, so thought I would revisit my training with that particular behavior to see if we could 'fix' it.

I've done a lot of 'choose to heel' in training with treats and rewards for finding the perfect heel position. Hoping to create that 'muscle memory' thing.  That's worked fine in training when I have treats on me, but doesn't always carry over into the trial. It's not necessarily because I don't have treats in the ring, because I don't think he would even take treats in the ring due to his worry and stress in that situation.

Last week I started working on heeling by holding him in that position. All my heeling for now will be on lead - keeping him close and always in heel position. I especially have a problem keeping him with me when moving between exercises. I am putting the lead on when moving between exercises also.  So, is the problem - that he doesn't know heel position or is he choosing not to stay in heel position? And, will keeping him constantly in heel position while moving help? Who's being responsible now for his position - him, or me? I don't know the answers, but it seems I have tried everything. And, since I've tried different training methods, it may be impossible to tell which one is working for him.

Any thoughts out there ?????

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another demo!

Jackson and I were invited to participate in another obedience demo this morning. Instead of elementary students this time, it was college students. One of our friends from our training club is an English professor at a nearby community college. A small group of us performed some exercises with our dogs, and the students were instructed to observe, record and relate what they witnessed in the dogs' behaviors to human learning. There were a lot of questions and discussion about how animals and people show signs of stress;  the different personalities observed; and the impacts of positive and negative reinforcements to motivate individuals (dogs and people) to learn and perform behaviors. It was all very interesting, and it got me thinking more about Jackson's personality and what motivates him and what stresses him.

Susan Garrett had another great post on her blog today about people labeling their dog by what they perceive to be their limitations. And, they are doing so to overcome some embarrassment or frustration they are feeling about their dog's behavior. Boy, did that hit home! If I had a nickel for every time I made a joking comment about Jackson doing things in 'slow motion,' I'd be rich : ) But, what is my expectation of his performance doing to reinforce that behavior that I have found so frustrating? Maybe there is something to that 'self-fulfilling prophecy' comment?

Susan goes on to say, "I would like to suggest every time you make this joke or repeat your limited belief that your dog is _________ (you fill in the blank) you are creating a new reality that does not have to be yours or your dog’s reality."

Hmmmmm,  maybe it's time to start focusing on what Jackson does well, how far he's come, and what he is capable of. Some food for thought : )

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

We've been tagged for the photo game!

Thanks to our friend, Honey the Great Dane, we've been tagged for a photo tag game.
 Here are the rules:
1. Open your first photo folder
2. Scroll down to the tenth photo
3. Post the photo and tell the story behind it
4. Tag 5 more people

Well, that was not so easy for us, since last month my computer crashed and they were unable to restore anything from the hard drive. So, I lost most of my photos stored on the computer. On the bright side, that's a good way to get rid of a lot of clutter on the computer !!!!!

Anyway, I had to bend the rules a bit to get to a photo. I went to the first folder that had 10 photos in it and picked the tenth photo. This is it : )

There's not much of a story behind this photo : ) This is Jackson's normal position during the day. When we get home from training he heads upstairs to the bed for some much needed R and R.

Now, here's my list of five bloggers to tag for this game. If you are so inclined, please play along. I know you have great photos - I've seen them on your blogs : )

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weekend trials

It turned out to be a great weekend of trials. I wasn't sure what to expect on the drive up - I never really know what to expect with Jackson : ) - but, it went really well. This was the first time I had been to this particular trial, which is about a four-hour drive from our home. It was a small trial so there was plenty of room for crating and warm-up. The people were super friendly and the weather was beautiful.

We qualified in Open and Utility both days, earning us our 3rd and 4th UDX legs! (Only six more to go.) He did the best ever in Utility on Saturday with a score of 191.5. However, today (Sunday) he was back to normal with a score of 177.5 : ) He's getting more consistent with his ability to perform the basic exercises to qualify but his attitude/stress level/focus goes up and down and really affects his performance. We can't seem to make that transition from enthusiasm and attention in practice and warm-up to carry over when we step into the ring. However, on the bright side, he's been able to work through the stress and perform the exercises.

I was particularly happy with the scent discrimination exercises. We've finally worked through the endless circling the pile problem and he goes right to work now and picks up the correct article quickly. I was also pleased with the directed retrieve, signals and the moving stand exerises. We need work though on the directed jumping. The going out part was good, but the sits were painfully slow and he walked in a few steps on two of the go-outs before he sat. A few more steps in and he probably would have NQd. Training note to self: work go-outs separate from jumps for awhile and focus on the sits. 

In Open, he was pretty solid on the basics of the exercises, however, we lost lots of points on crooked fronts and some really bad finishes. Today, since we had the #3 glove, which is a left pivot that he backs into, we practiced several of these in our warm up. The upside of that is he did the pivot to the glove great, but whenever I gave him the right finish signal today, he tried to back into a left finish and ended up sitting in front of me instead of beside me. That's probably hard to visualize.Suffice it to say, it was a really bad finish. Training note to self: Work on finishes!

There are a lot of things that we can work to improve, but overall, I am really happy with his consistency in performing the key elements of the exercises. We are entered in another trial in three weeks, so time to sit down and make a plan : )

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Happy Birthday Jackson!

The Birthday Boy!

Jackson celebrated his 6th birthday today. Can't believe it's really been six years : )  He celebrated his birthday this morning with his friends at the care center where he goes regularly to visit. Today they had lots of treats for him and cookies for everyone.

 Jackson getting a birthday kiss from one of his favorite residents.

To thank them for the treats and well wishes, he performed a few of his obedience exercises. In this picture he is doing signals for them.

In the afternoon we met up with our training buddies at the obedience club and practiced for our upcoming trials this weekend. I don't know what to expect at the trials because he's been on and off with his exercises this week. I guess we'll just hope for the best Saturday morning : )

Jackson relaxing after a busy, fun-filled birthday!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cooking with Jackson

On one of our recent pet therapy visits to the care center, our friends there gave Jackson some 'cookies' the residents had baked. He absolutely loved them so I asked for the recipe and today we tried our hand at baking them. Now, I am NOT a baker or cook or anything resembling either, and I have no fancy kitchen equipment like a food processer or even a big mixer, etc., so this is a very simple recipe. There are only four ingredients. If my dogs are any indication, they are wonderful cookies - evidently foolproof  : )

Here's the recipe:
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 T. baking powder
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl combine flour and baking powder. In another bowl, mix peanut butter and milk, then add to dry ingredients and mix well. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Bake for 20 minutes on a greased baking sheet until lightly brown. Cool on a rack, then store in an airtight container.

One of the things I love about these dog treats is that they are soft and I can break off small pieces to use as treats in training. Following are some pictures of our cookie-making afternoon : )

In the oven they go.
Hot out of the oven and cooling - and boy, do they smell good!

And, what would I do without my supervisor?

Finally, a taste!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Five-a-day challenge

I saw the five-a-day challenge referenced on a blog recently - can't remember which blog - but it motivated me to try it. It's basically doing five short training sessions per day to work on a behavior. I've had trouble sticking to multiple short training sessions per day even though I do believe they are more productive than the 'marathon' sessions I tend to do at the club. Now that the weather is conducive to being outdoors, I think it'll be much easier to just step outside for a few minutes and train. I've decided to commit to doing this for at least one week and see if I can maintain a schedule.

The behavior I'm going to work on this week is attention. Yes, it's back to basics again : ) What I'm doing is taking Jackson out in front of our house (where there are lots of distractions) and clicking and treating him for every time he looks at me. We just do this for 4-5 minutes. My goal is for his attention on me to become his default behavior. I video taped our first session today and at the end of the week, I'll video tape another session and see if I can see any difference. If I can see progress, I'll then start taking him to other places with different distractions and work on attention in those locations.

I also added some heeling to the session after a couple minutes of just standing and treating for attention. I'm a big fan of 'choose to heel,' so I walk a ways and click and treat when he gets in heel position.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


There was a fun match this morning at one of the clubs where we train occasionally. The last time we attended a fun match at this club, Jackson was really, really stressed and did not do well at all.  It's the club where they do a lot of agility and Jackson is very worried about the agility equipment and the environment in general. So, when I think back to our last fun match at that club about three months ago, I am really happy with how things went today. He was still pretty worried, but was able to work through it in both Open and Utility classes.

We arrived about a half hour prior to the start time. He was the second dog in the Open ring. We walked around for awhile and did some warm up exercises to get him used to the noise and activity in the building. However, I could tell he was worried and having trouble focusing on me. The way he takes treats is always a good barameter of his level of stress. And, today he was taking the treats slowly - he wasn't going after them like he usually does in practice.

The Open exercises went well. He stayed with me pretty much on the heeling, although I was helping him with verbal encouragement. His drop on recall was good. His dumbbell retrieves were also good - good speed and good fronts and finishes. And, his broad jump was good. I did notice some anticipation on two or three of the exercises. He will sometimes start up when he hears the judge say 'forward' instead of waiting for my signal, and he started the broad jump before I gave the command. I'm going to have to pay closer attention to that in training and work on him waiting longer for my signal. Anticipation means he knows what he's supposed to do so I don't want to give a correction for it, but yet I don't want to see it in a trial, as that would be an NQ. Overall, I was happy with the Open exercises. I had decided to treat it more like a practice rather than a formal trial-like setting, so I was 'helping' him quite a bit, trying to make it fun and build confidence.

The Utility exercises were okay. He was stressed about the judge in this ring. He usually doesn't worry too much about the judge, but for some reason he wanted to keep his eye on this particular judge. First exercise was the directed retrieve. He retrieved the correct glove but was slow coming back and kept looking around like he thought something was going to get him. The stand for exam was fine, and the directed jumping was fair. His go outs were not quite far enough but his jumps were good. Scent discrimination (articles) was where we ran into a bit of a problem. The first article was good, but then he had a problem with the second article. He was working the pile, but kept passing by the correct article. Rather than let him continue longer, I went in and pointed out the correct article. The last exercise, heeling and signals, was good.

Overall, if I were grading on a curve (comparing it to past fun matches), I would say it went well - but with lots of room for improvement : ) I have continued doing mostly fun stuff the past week in training and not asking so much for formal fronts, finishes, etc. I think that's helping because I did see a glimmer of some of the behavioral changes we've been working on coming through, even with the stress.

We're finally getting a real break in the weather this next week, which means more outdoor work in different locations this next week. And, I'm hoping to start my five-a-day challenge soon. I'll post more about that, when we get started : )

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Finally, we can train outdoors!

A touch of spring broke out this week, which means we can train outdoors. It is wonderful to be outside without freezing, so we took advantage of the nice weather and met up with our training buddy, Melody the border terrier, at the fairgrounds. This is one of our favorite places to train. It's a huge state fairgrounds with many different places to set up our training equipment. It's usually not real busy, but there are always some people walking/driving/working around there, which helps provide some distractions.

I have been sticking with my goal of training with less formality for awhile in order to build confidence and have more fun. We haven't been doing a lot of formal fronts and finishes, and I've been throwing a lot of treats. This seems to really be helping his speed and enthusiasm. I've also been 'revving' him up to retrieve the dumbbell and go to the article pile. Today in practice he actually trotted out to the article pile -- and back. He usually walks slowly, so this was a bit of a surprise. The downside of all this revving up is that he occasionally anticipates instead of waiting for my command. I'm not worried about that right now, but it's something to watch.

Overall, his attitude seems much improved in practice, so I'm hoping this will carry over. (Maybe it's the weather. I know the springlike weather is sure helping my attitude :) We have a fun match in a week, so we'll see how that goes.

I took a few pictures of Jackson and Melody training today.

Jackson and Melody practicing signals together

Practicing heeling

Working articles

Waiting for the directional jump signal

Melody and Jackson resting


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jolee's new trick - Rocking Teddy

Jolee and I have been working on a new trick. I'm trying to shape a behavior to rock the chair. This has been good practice for me with the clicker. And, even though I am sometimes (often) way off on my timing with the clicker, she seems to know that getting a treat has something to do with touching the chair. We've just had a couple sessions, but thought I would post short clips of how we're doing. We have a ways to go, but I think we're making progress. She's fun to work with because she offers behaviors. Hmmmm, I wonder if that's because we haven't done a lot of competitive obedience training?

This is our first session where I started out rewarding for any touch or interaction with the rocking chair.

This second clip is our next session.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Training update

Training has had a few ups and downs this past couple weeks. Toward the end of last week he seemed real sluggish in training. I wasn't sure what to attribute it to. I didn't know if he wasn't feeling well, was just showing his age, was distracted by more people than normal training at the club lately, or if it was something else - like maybe me! I may be the one that needs an attitude adjustment.

I thought we would take a few days off from training to give both Jackson and me a break. However, I couldn't stay away - I think I must be addicted to training : ) - so off we went to the club again. But I had decided that it was going to be different. It would just be play time and I would focus on keeping things upbeat. I was hoping that we would be the only ones training there when we first went back. I like having others there for the distractions and I enjoy their company, but I really wanted to see if I could get him up and excited with no distractions. We were the only ones there, and it really did make a difference in his attitude. He was very up and ready to work - not looking around or worried about what else was going on in the building. I think maybe my change in attitude and focus on fun entered into it also. Anyway, I'm happy to be able to rule out any physical reason for the sluggishness, so it's full speed ahead with training.

I've entered a trial in April so we have five weeks to train for that trial. My plan is to try to find small trials sponsored  by obedience clubs. Trials that have lower entries - thus, less noise, congestion, and fewer distractions. Overall, a more relaxed setting, which I think will be helpful for both Jackson and me. (I'm trying to stack the deck in favor of Jackson since he is such a worrier : )  Our training plan for the next couple weeks will focus on fun and losing the formality. I know he can do all the exercises, so my goal is to get us more relaxed doing them. To work on precision in heeling, pivots, fronts, sits, etc., I'm going to make it more of a game with treats and in some cases try using the clicker. Here are some of the things we've been doing - for fun.

One of the behaviors I'm trying to shape is for him to spin and sit. By itself, it's a fun thing to work on, but I'm also seeing how this might help his sits on go-outs for utility. Jackson's not great at offering behaviors. He's a dog that doesn't like to make a mistake, so I think he prefers to be 'shown what to do' rather than offer something. That may be partly his personality, or perhaps the way I started out training him. Hoping it's not too late to change.

The drop on recall is coming along nicely. He used to anticipate the drop so would slow down to a walk about halfway to me waiting for me to give the drop signal. We started playing a game with it where I would throw a treat for him to chase as soon as his elbows touched the floor. The other problem I sometimes had was him not coming from the drop on the first command. Again, throwing some treats behind me seems to have helped with that - at least in practice.

A new shaping/clicker behavior I'm trying is to have him put his front feet on a box on the floor and pivot his back feet around. This would be good for rear-end awareness, which will help him with his turns and pivots. I've seen this in several videos and thought it about time for Jackson and me to try it. So, the first attempt I clicked and treated him for putting one foot on the box. We got as far as him just touching the box with one foot. Like I said previously, he's really slow at offering behaviors so we'll see how far we get next time. I'm going to try hard to resist the urge to show him what I want : )

Overall, our training will mostly be fun and games and treats for awhile - working on building confidence and attitude. There's going to be a fun match at another training facility in three weeks, which will give us an oppportunity to see where we're at, and determine what our next plan will be : )

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The School Visit

Jackson was invited to join some friends for a school visit today. The teacher does a unit on dogs and has her students pick a purebred dog to research. Each of us gave a brief introduction and told the students some of the basics about our dog's breed and what activities our specific dogs are involved in. Following the introductions we did some demonstrations on the various obedience competition skills and ended with a 'meet and greet' session. Here's some pictures of our visit.

Waiting our turn for introductions

Jackson's turn

The Stand for Exam

Meeting and Greeting the students

Friday, February 19, 2010

Training update - members' class

Last night began a new three-week session of classes for club members. The obedience club I belong to has classes for members on most Thursday nights. They cover a variety of subjects from beginning attention and games to utility and open proofing. I'm taking a break from my usual utility class until the weather breaks so this is a good filler and provides a different type of training environment for Jackson.

I participated in the utility proofing class last night. It was a crowded class, which is good for Jackson as we learn to work through distractions. There were 10-12 dog/handler teams in the ring working at the same time. We did signals next to each other and Jackson did great with that. He was not as bothered as I thought he would be by other teams around him and behind him.

The article exercise went well too. We each set up in a different area of the ring - pretty close to each other. He was able to quickly retrieve the correct article even with dogs crossing paths as they went too and from their pile. He was a little slow going out and back on the glove exercise due to the distractions, but did good pivots and retrieves.

The rest of the hour was spent practicing pivots and short go-outs to various points in the ring. Overall, a good training session with lots of distractions.

On another topic, I just received the photos from last month's trial wins, so thought I would post them here for fun :) I hung the stained glass rosettes we won in the kitchen windows, but I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the ribbon rosettes.